tv [untitled] February 5, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm EST
writing the memoirs we didn't have access, because the papers had been nationalized, and the president's lawyers had advised him, a provision of the law was that he could have access to the papers while -- while and if he challenged it and he did challenge it. his lawyers advised him it didn't serve his best interests to avail himself of a provision of the law that he was challenging. so for the first two years, we worked on the early life and wrote maybe close to three quarters of a million words on it which we knew would be cut but it's a fascinating -- richard nixon had a life in full, really, before he became president. and he used to say that he thought the most interesting period of his life was the wilderness years, '62 to '68. when from absolute abject defeat
within six years he was president. as joe says, the biographies of nixon range -- i put them on a scale from he was one step short of canonization, to positive which would be -- the ageography would be like bella kornitser which is still worth while as a period piece and because he had access to hannah nixon. he had a lot of family stories. nixon could do no wrong. not to demean or dismiss the book. then sort of a positive books and to which i would put jonathan atkins' book. neutral books into which i would put conrad black's biography. he knew nixon and is
sympathetic. also extremely critical of his personality, his policies and his conduct. then there are the negatives in which roger morris' book, which it is finally researched i think it's hobbled by the fact that he sees, tends to see everything in a bad light. then there are the books that i think can only be described as rab id, that would be brodie's book and anthony summers' books. these are the authors for whom nixon could do no good deed or have no decent thought. he was evil was bred in his bone down to his dna. and the mark of the beast on his forehead. that's my -- that would be my assessment of some of those books. and it surprises me, it disappoints me that a lot of nixon scholarships accepts
uncritically these books which are based on two or three or four secondary defective sources for a lot of these quintessential nixon stories. so i don't think they're very good scholarship, but i'm not a scholar. i think julie eisenhower's book is a gem that's hiding in plain sight. and because it was easy to dismiss it, not that it was, it was very well received, but it's easy to think that a daughter -- in fact, she had tremendous access to materials from her mother and that don't appear elsewhere. and i think she's remarkably objective. i would certainly put her in the positive category. but i think it's a book that deserves revisiting for a lot of
the material that's in there. again, i'm so far over my head but nixon was no new dealer. frank nixon i think voted for fighting bob la for let and did vote for fdr in '32. nixon's great hero initially, because he had admired his career, harold stasson, the boy governor, and he had followed his career before he went into the navy. and then in the south pacific, he met stasson. and from that meeting, stasson was going through, and i think he actually brought mail with him. but he was going through on a good will tour to the troops. and that made a great impression on nixon. and nixon at the '48 convention was a stasson man. one of his other great memories of the war, even talking to me in the '70s, that he remembered fondly was seeing eleanor roosevelt.
he didn't know who it was. he knew that there was a jeep convoy. and he sort of craned his neck to see who it was. and riding in the back of the jeep with no particular protection was eleanor roosevelt. and he had never seen a first lady. and that made a great impression on him. the -- i think the early life -- i'm very partial to it. both in the terms of the formation of nixon's character and his ideas but also because it could correct a lot of the misunderstandings. gary wills memorably writes about driving down to yorba linda to see the birthplace. and he says that driving through this wasteland of oil dereks and used car lots and american flags
the size of city blocks, what else would you expect from richard nixon? there is, in fact, yorba linda, whittier, fullerton, orange county. nixon's youth as idealic. he writes on the minimum yours that you could see the snows. and whittier was a remarkable enclave, a quaker enclave of faith, theology and education in southern california. they came in the 1880s, maybe. and built first a church and then a school. and then a college. so nixon -- and it was also a considerably racially diverse community. so nixon's early life, i think, has been much disserved and misinterpreted by some authors.
he was not the psycho biography as applied from almost from the cradle, although he didn't help us in the memoirs because, as he said, his first memory was first of all being dropped on his head and then running after a wagon from which he had been dropped, afraid of being left behind. freud is in the wings waiting to deal with that. and that's as he said in the interviews, the reason he unfashionably somewhat combed his hair backwards was instead of parting it on the side was because he had a big scar from that early fall. i had argued, and by looking at his bibliography you can see his success. i had argued that the first book or a book he should do after the memoirs was a book on his early life. and i was partly inspired by president carter's books about growing up and christmas in plains.
but i thought that to tell the nixon story in yorba linda and whittier and fullerton and orange county in his youth and up to the time that he went away to -- that he responded to the ad in the paper and the letter from herman perry and started his political career is important formative charming and interesting. am i free to go? good lord. i think i'm sort of out of things to say. >> did you want to comment on irv? >> oh, irv. well, irv is -- first of all, it's great news that the second volume is going to be published. and soon. sooner than later. the first irv is an indefatigable scholar, an impeccable researcher and i
think remarkably fair-minded in terms of his judgment. so he's a triple threat and a great contribution to nixon literature and historiography. irv has gone back to the sources and read in human capacity the papers and documents and research to get back -- another thing about nixon, why did nixon -- with most politicians, as they -- if they succeed upward, the baggage from their earlier careers is sort of unpacked and becomes part of the mythology. with nixon, the baggage from each of his careers was rechecked, weighed, opened and inspected and then sent on to the next stage of his career.
i can remember when i was a white house fellow, we invited henry fonda and his wife to come and speak to the group and spouses. and he was then pushing -- he was in a play in washington at the national theater. and it was produced by a nonprofit that he was trying to get started called the plumstead playhouse. it would be sort of a national theater. i was the middle man on this. and he said -- actually got him at his hotel. he said he was not political. but if we were a nonpartisan or a bipartisan group, which we were, that he would consider coming and speaking. so -- and that was the terms. and that was, in fact, what we were. so he was charming and great and so was his wife. after lupch he said a few words. he said you know, i'm not political. so i'm a little strange for me to be here. i'm not political. and he said, except i would go anywhere and do anything to prevent richard nixon from being elected to anything. and we were up in an office in the eob looking down on the
white house. and you sort of expected either a missile to open up or lightning to come down. and i think he thought that -- well, it did have a great effect on the group, but i think he thought there would be rendering of garments. and somebody said, is that because of vietnam? and he said no. he said, i hate the war. but i think -- i don't think we should be there. but i think nixon is getting us out as fast as can be done. this was in the -- it was in '72, and i think it was in the spring of '72. somebody said, well, is it the economy? and he thought for a minute and he said no. i really don't think the -- i don't like the way things are going, but i don't think the president has that much effect on the economy. he thought for a minute and said, i have to tell you, it's because i will never forget and i will never forgive what he did to douglas in california in 1950. and so this baggage -- this was in 1972.
that baggage goes on. in working on the nixon memoir, i had a great opportunity to talk to -- interview for the book, both jimmy roosevelt, who was also running for governor that year, and paul zifren who became a lawyer and was douglas' campaign manager. and both of them told me in separate interviews that it was a tough, rough, as he said, as nixon said, a rocking socking campaign. i'm not sure now that he said it in reference to that one, but at any rate, that's what it was. but they both said -- and jimmy roosevelt had actually stood in for her at a debate. she didn't show up for a debate with candidate nixon. and he stood in for her. and he said that it was rough and tough but on both sides. and that nixon won, and he won handily. this whole thing -- again, my
theories -- am i almost up? >> yes. >> you know, if you sent to central casting, nixon was unfortunate in the people he ran against. the year he ran against jerry voorhees, voorhees had been elected by the washington press corps. the most popular congressman in washington. so this is the man nixon unseats. they said send us candidates to run against him like movie stars. his next opponent was a movie star. and then he ran against adlai stevenson. he was an intellectual model. and eisenhower used him to sort of be the political attack man. and then, of course, he runs against john kennedy and pat brown. so he, in terms of the coverage and the baggage from these campaigns just staying with him and lumbering through all of his career. but a lot of these books, these nixon biographies, it would be like if a kennedy -- president kennedy biography, if you turn
to the index and all the quotes were from victor laskey or nigel hamilton, you'd dismiss it. you'd say it's a polemic and some original stuff that's skewed. books that do this with nixon have become part of the cannon. so i think that's something that -- that in the future, now that -- thanks to the archives, the papers are here. the nixon library is the 12th of the now 13 presidential libraries state-of-the-art archives. yorba linda will be the center of nixon research and thanks to books like mel small's, the liftography of the nixon administration can be seenn perhaps a more general, not generous, because good and bad things were done.
a more generous perspective. thank you. [ applause ] >> i want to invite the audience into the conversation. questions, reactions for any of our panelists here. there are two people with microphones who will be running around the lecture hall. so i will call on you. and please don't speak until you have the microphone. so the first question. rick. right over there. >> my question is for dr. gannon. did you say 750,000 words? that you wrote about together with nixon on his early life? >> that's a lot, i mean a real lot. >> so are those thousands of pages, do they still exist, and
are they available to read? >> i can't answer those -- i know nothing was -- i mean, we all know nothing was thrown away. or erased. well, might have been inadvertently erased. or mechanically erased. i don't know the answer to that, but i'm sure the answer is yes. and as i say, for two years, almost two years, we worked exclusively on the early life with the knowledge that it would be cut. but also with the knowledge that it was creating a pace. it was creating a tone. it was creating a working operation with a very small team operating under great pressure to create a style and a method. and so i think -- i don't feel -- i don't think anybody felt, and certainly the president didn't feel that it was time wasted or material lost. and, again, yes, i'm sure the answer is it's there in the archives, and it's waiting to be
discovered and mined. >> go ahead. >> this questionir the historian that spent the last years of his life examining the nixon/eisenhower relationship. i just completed ambrose's biography of eisenhower, in which he speaks at length at the conversations that took place between eisenhower and nixon. where eisenhower was trying to dissuade nixon from being on the ticket for the '56 run for re-election, instead saying that it was in his interests to run d.o.d. and obviously, this must have came from personal conversations that ambrose had with but i imagine you have investigated the other side.
what are your comments about what had happened in the run-up to the '56 and the decision made for nixon to stay on the ticket? >> first of all, before i answer, i forgot to mention david coleman. i don't know if he's here or not. is he? >> he is. >> is he here? >> right there. >> thank you, david. and over in the far corner with a shiny light on top of his shiny head is ken hughes who's one of the most brilliant individuals who works at the ce. and if you want to talk to someone who really knows the tapes and the nature of the presidency, he's one of the primary people to speak to. besides being an awfully nice the answer to your question is that ambrose normally gets a lot of stuff wrong. his interviews that he has with he was alded, if you read a
thing in "the new yorker" called "challenging ike" on april 26th, 2010, i believe, he made up many of the meetings. they never occurred. the answer to your question from the research is, eisenhower felt that no one since martin van buren had moved from the vice presidency to be elected president of the united states. eisenhower had an incredible sense of history and was very protective of nixon in many ways. and he felt that nixon needed training in running a large bureaucracy. the first attempt at what you're saying came from a conversation where he talks to leonard hall who's the chairman of the republican national committee. and he talks to them, i believe, on january 9th, 1956. and says to len, he says, look.
i really think that nixon should get a cabinet position so he could be really an effective president. because he would have the management of a large organization. len hall thought so much of that conversation that when he went out of the white house in front of the press cameras, he said, i endorse the re-election of eisenhower/nixon. so the amount of emphasis that eisenhower really paid to this was probably minimalist. his brother, milton eisenhower, wrote a letter in 1983 where milton says -- and my brother wanted to get rid of nixon for the vice president, he could do it in a new york heartbeat. and obviously he never did. >> question there. >> my name is dr. richard arena, former professor of whittier college.
i'm the one who did the richard nixon oral history project which took -- which was a two-year assignment. i was put on leave to do that. it took me all over the country. it took me away from my family. i'm referring to the comments in particular of the last speaker but also the third speaker. nixon's life is very complex. and that i found out. i worked under such historians as thomas c. cochran. some of you may recognize the name. he was president of the american historical association. and i worked under him at the university of pennsylvania. he was a totally committed social historian. even though -- i'm going along with this comment, but it will come to an end -- we historians love to talk. i'm retired.
i don't get enough practice. and thomas cochran was an american historian for the wharton school of business. and actually, he was very leftist but very socially oriented. and when i interviewed the some 400 persons who are located now at yorba linda museum and at whittier college under professor joe domkowski, let me say, one person who did publish some of the things i said, quote, you're too wordy. wordy. and i was wordy because i remember one victim of the trainings for my ph.d. in history, if in doubt, take a note. don't leave things, you know, unsaid. so i am wordy.
i wanted the people that i interviewed to be completely known to the reader or listener of the tapes. so when will a complete early life history of richard nixon, which is complex. the idea of black history, nixon and whittier college had black football players at that time before world war ii with very few colleges allowed. and richard took the black historian whom i interviewed, by the way, he ended up in the merchant marine and had nothing but praise for the nixon family. >> so let me ask them to respond. >> i also want to clarify, "the l.a. times" made the error of saying that i was appointed, and they announced it as the director of the project to interview friends and associates. don't believe it. i interviewed anti-nixon people.
we tried to get jeremy voorhees, among others. he refused. those who know whittier, we did interview judge merten ray who hated nixon's guts. the last thing i would do is try to give a biased interview collection on nixon. >> let me ask you -- let me ask you to -- let me ask one of them to respond. >> the last speaker in particular who says there's a need, and the third speaker. there's a need for good early life history of nixon. thank you very much. >> thank you. >> excuse the wordiness. >> thank you. which one of you would like to respond? >> first of all, frank gannon has his interviews nine days long, very profitable on a university of georgia website. and it's where i learned when nixon met lbj. it's the only document that
shows the early relationship between lbj and richard nixon. second, dr. arena, i hate you. i really do. you did 335 of these oral histories. and i'm almost two-thirds through them. and i got to tell you, it's long. and the other person that i should comment on who's no longer with us is harry jeffrey who did a marvelous series of about 212 interviews. but the one question that you had is when will an early life be done. and the problem of an early life of richard nixon has nothing to do with the fascination. it has to do with the state of publishing in the united states today. and it's very, very hard to get someone, especially in commercial press, to do the early life of richard nixon. >> i should say, i went, like a lot of my things i started, finish the thought, i had urged
the president to consider writing a book partly because we had written a lot of it already about his early life. and he said to go and see, which was a memorable event for me, he said go see his publisher who was michael corda at simon & schuster. so that was an adventure for me. he said pretty much the same thing. and this was 25, 30 years ago. and in the wake of the success of the memoirs, that it's just -- it's not -- and even i was, again, as i say, i was suggesting it in terms of the carter books which were commercial successes. but it's a tough -- it's a tough sell. i still think it's worth doing. and the other thing is that the early life and the jeffries collection, yours at whittier and the jeffries collection at fullerton is a tremendous resource. and ed nixon's book. and others. but since it pre-dates his --
it's more bucolic and formative. it predates his political career. i was going to suggest ending it when he goes away to war because that's a big change where the nondrinking, noncard-playing, nonswearing nixon, pacifist nixon goes away to war. and so that's the end. you can't -- although he did, you can't go home again. he came home but everything was different after that in america and in the world and with him. so it's not necessarily something that appeals to an historian, unless perhaps an historian of place. or the psycho biographer and so much i think of the unfortunate stuff, all the franklins and stuff about what nixon was like. he was a very serious -- he was nixon. even when he was young, he was a very serious person, but he was very popular. he was the president of various classes.
but he was a serious fellow. so there isn't a lot of -- there's a lot of material, but it's not necessarily going to appeal to an historian who was interested in politics or in later -- in his later career which is so vivid. >> joe, did you want to respond to that? >> well, we have the whittier nixon oral history has been -- we got that in 2008 from the nixon library. and we started a project to digitize the transcripts. and those are all digitized, but we're still in the process of developing a website to load the materials on. so i think the one thing i agree on also is the cal state fullerton collection has some really valuable materials that may be overlooked. those are still -- yorba linda public library put about 20 of those transcripts that are on their website at the library,
but all the other fullerton or the transcripts are in the office there. and you can -- a researcher can come in there and use them which i think is a very valuable resource. >> other questions? >> i'm sorry, we don't have a paper program. the author of the forthcoming vice presidential book -- >> irv gelman? >> yes, mr. gelman. your research indicates that the eisenhower/nixon relationship was an "a" minus. why is the more common public perception that it's "c" minus," d" plus, how did that come about? was it on purpose or just lack of research? >> well, since i already need a visa to get to harvard to let me inhe